Thursday, 20 January 2011

Home Office Responds To Wanstead Flats Consultation

Today a Home Office ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Nick Herbert and in the House of Lords by Baroness Neville-Jones, in response to the department's public consultation on Wanstead Flats. As expected, the ministers' message to the majority whose submissions expressed concern about the proposed police base on the Flats is a commitment to plough ahead regardless of local objections.

The ministers' statement bats away objections to the plans by simply repeating the assurances that have been made by the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Corporation since September 2010. It does, however, acknowledge that the Legislative Reform Order, which will temporarily amend the Epping Forest Act of 1878, is based on a flawed legal interpretation of the legislation that protects Epping Forest and Wanstead Flats. This was pointed out in detail by the Save Wanstead Flats campaign in its response to the consultation. The campaign explained that the Home Office was seeking to remove the 'burden' of a criminal offence, under section 34 of the Act, that no longer exists - and that a Legislative Reform Order was therefore completely unnecessary.

However, campaigners also warned that in the course of the bungled and hasty attempt to overcome legal obstacles facing the Home Office, a fundamental duty of the Conservators of Epping Forest would, perhaps inadvertently, be severely undermined. In reply, the Home Office has completely ignored this warning and says that it considers "that the consultation remains valid and the proposed Legislative Reform Order can proceed".

This means that a draft Order will soon be laid before Parliament for members of both Houses to consider. It also means that everyone who cares about the future of Wanstead Flats needs to start putting pressure on their local MPs, who until now have refused to say almost anything about the proposals for Wanstead Flats or their constituents' concerns.

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